Magnetic stripes are a widely used form of encoding data on ID cards. These cards work by storing data as a pattern of positive and negative magnetic stripe fields.

Magnetic ID cards offer an additional layer of security and encryption to the data enclosed in the card. They help decrease counterfeit and duplicated cards because of the ability to encode on the magnetic stripe.

In this blog, you’ll learn what a magnetic ID card is and why you should use one. Plus, we’ll share a quick guide on how to write to magnetic stripe cards.

What is a Magnetic Card?

A magnetic ID card, also known as a mag stripe ID card, is a PVC ID badge. What gives these cards their name is the magnetic band implanted in the back of the card where updatable information is stored. This information is read when you swipe the card through a magnetic card reader.

A magnetic ID card is categorized into two types:

High Coercivity (HiCo)

HiCo stripe cards are more durable and are generally not re-encoded or re-used.  They are easy to identify with black magnetic stripes.

Plus, they are more reliable because their magnetic layer is denser and less susceptible to stray field erasure from magnets. Thus, HiCo cards are a better choice if your ID cards are frequently used and/or need a longer life.

Low Coercivity (LoCo)

LoCo stripe cards have brown magnetic stripes. They are intended to be temporary cards that can easily be erased and re-encoded, such as cards used in hotels and mass transit systems.

These cards use less energy to encode. However, that encoding will last a shorter amount of time and is more susceptible to interference.

What are Magnetic Stripes Used For?

Magnetic stripe ID cards are commonly used for:

  • School IDs
  • Medical ID badges
  • Police & fire ID cards
  • Gift and reward card programs
  • Loyalty programs
  • Cafeteria lunch programs
  • Time and attendance tracking (e.g. signing in and out at work)
  • Keyless access control (e.g. unlocking doors)
  • Transportation tickets
  • ATM cards/bank cards
  • Driver’s licenses
  • Telephone calling cards
  • Membership cards
  • Electronic benefit transfer cards (e.g. food stamps)

How Magnetic Stripes Work

A magnetic stripe is made up of three ‘tracks’ which allow you to encode and store three pieces of information. It’s important to note that tracks 1 and 3 can store up to 85 characters, whereas track 2 can only store up to 30 characters.

When the card is swiped, the data is read and delivered to the system, which then performs a defined action based on the data collected.

Before you understand how to read a magnetic stripe card, you should know what data can be stored on the magnetic stripe.

You can store methods of payment, account numbers, and bank routing numbers on the magnetic stripe. Or, in the case of college students, these cards can encode the student ID number and a pre-paid cafeteria account number. When you swipe the card, these information bits are passed on to a computer that can understand this data, triggering a predefined action.

How to Encode Magnetic Stripe Card

The process of writing data to a magnetic strip involves using a special magnetic stripe cardstock (i.e. blank cards with the magnetic stripe on them), ID card design software that has mag stripe encoding functionality, and a magnetic swipe card printer.

Typical ID card printers can’t print the magnetic stripe onto a blank card but you can buy blank cards with a magnetic stripe built-in. You can also order a magnetic encoder with most ID card printers.

To use a magnetic stripe card, you’ll first have to print the card design and then encode the cards. Once your card is encoded, you’ll need a magnetic stripe reader to read and decode the data. Lastly, you’ll need a system or software that will understand and use the data stored on the card.

Skip the Code, Call InstantCard

Encoding magnetic stripe cards on your own can be tricky, especially if your ID card printer doesn’t support the magnetic encoding functionality.

But at InstantCard, we pride ourselves in encoding magnetic stripes for our clients. And, we do not charge a penny for this service. We not only encode your magnetic ID card but also offer design and printing at NO additional cost. You only have to pay to print.

Not to mention, there is never a “small-batch” fee. This means you can print individual cards at the same cost as cards within larger batches.

Want to print your magnetic stripe employee ID card with FREE encoding, free template design, no minimum batch size, and same-day shipping? Check out our pricing plans for more info and set up your account today. Or, if you have further questions, call us at our toll-free number 888-980-6179.